Two important and very great things happened in our adopted country of Colombia on Friday.
FIRST, the city of Medellín finally demolished the Monaco building, the former home and fortress of this country’s most notorious narco terrorist. (I’m sure you’re thinking his name right now, but we don’t say it out loud here.) In its place will be a memorial park that honors the victims, far too often overlooked given PE’s mythical status. Understandably, there’s a lot of jubilation about this landmark event. Most citizens see it as a big milestone in Medellín’s miraculous rebirth after that dark and violent period that, sadly, put this city on the map for all the wrong reasons.
Although abandoned and derelict in the years since PE’s death, the building had become a tourist attraction and a regular stop on the “PE tour” circuit. Yes, you read that right, there are actually organized tours of landmarks from this monster’s reign of terror. Consider this: at the height of his power, PE and his cartel were responsible for the murders of four presidential candidates, 500 police officers, and an estimated 4,000 citizens. By some estimates, the cartel was spending $2,500 a month just on RUBBER BANDS to bundle up all the money. Tour companies profiting off such tragedy and excess? It boggles the mind.
Our friend and fellow blogger, Byron Edgington, posted a great piece about this momentous occasion, dovetailing with a serendipitous meeting with Medellín’s mayor, Federico Gutiérrez. I’ll let Byron tell the story here.
Surprisingly, there was some controversy about the demolition. More than a few folks were in the “It’s part of our history, warts and all” camp (see: Confederate memorials in the U.S. South). And, of course, the “PE tour” operators aren’t too happy about losing one of the regular stops on their circuit.
There was plenty of local news coverage, of course, but I was surprised to see a story in the New York Times as well. Here it is. The Times ran another great article about this painful history and the conundrum of the PE “mystique” last September.
SECOND, our beautiful, newly adopted country staged Venezuela Aid Live, a fantastic, day-long music festival (think 1985’s Live Aid) on the Colombian border with Venezuela Friday. Organized by bazillionaire and overall good guy Sir Richard Branson, Venezuela Live Aid is raising money for humanitarian aid for the embattled Venezolanos.
Walking around in our neighborhood Friday, we were struck by how many locals were glued to TV screens in bars, restaurants, and other places, watching the show. Of course the music was great, but it was also inspiring to see how Colombians – and the Colombian government – are coming together to help the Venezuelan people and try to resolve the crisis. Fun fact: Colombia has accepted close to THREE MILLION Venezuelan refugees, with more coming in every day.
A secondary goal of Venezuela Aid Live was to put even more international pressure on Venezuela’s beast of a “president,” Nicolás Maduro. If you’ve been following the news closely, you know that Maduro has been BLOCKADING food, medical supplies, and other humanitarian aid from entering the country. What kind of monster does that to his own people, who are already suffering unimaginably? It’s a situation that’s developing by the hour, and already several opposition people have been gassed and even shot trying to get trucks carrying aid into Venezuela. I don’t often say “boggles the mind” twice in one blog post, but it truly boggles the mind.
Here’s the latest on the situation from the Washington Post. And here’s another great story on Rolling Stone about how the Friday concert has actually helped step up the pressure on Maduro to allow aid to enter.
I’d like to believe that there’s a special place in hell reserved for Maduro, and he’ll be hanging there with PE before long. Until then, all we can do is push for change and try to help, even in small ways. Although the Aid Live concert was Friday, the organizers are still accepting donations. You can do so here.